Reconciliation and its Discontents

Thu, 03/05/2015 - 4:00pm
Penn Museum

Audra Simpson
Reconciliation and its Discontents

DATE: Thursday, March 5, 2015
TIME: 4:00pm
LOCATION: Penn Museum

Abstract:  “Reconciliation” has achieved a seemingly unquestioned status in Canada as the good thing that is to usher in the better thing that will be. That “better thing is a repaired past, a better future, an ethical, and balanced present. This move to reconcile has emerged from three decades of overt and unambiguous Indigenous foment, resistance and refusal in the face of neoliberal and dispossessive settlement and statecraft, statecraft that is now manifest and embodied in especially unambiguous ways by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. It is his government however, that ushers the twin move of official “reconciliation” and simultaneously violent resource extraction and although on a continuum this moment appears as an apogee of sorts.  Nonetheless, this discourse of repair was inaugurated by an official apology for one state violence, that of Indian residential schools and in this atomizing and reifying move, now finds its ways into legal decision on land rights (Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, 2014), institutionalized spaces of listening (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2008-2014), but also circulates through various publics in a manner that can perform in supple and dexterous ways, different meanings. Although multi-vocal the discourse seeks to harmonize and balance a fundamental disjuncture: a sovereign state, in Dale Turner’s argument (2006) that was and is unwilling to rescind its (false) claims to Indigenous land and life and Indigenous struggles for land and life (as sovereignty). This paper is animated by the abbreviated history just described and examines the ways in which “reconciliation” seeks to repair or perhaps subvert and mask the problem of historical and ethical impasse and injury. Here the paper takes the highly gestural and symbolic discursive work of reconciliation to examine how it can abet violence towards land and people through an emotional performance of singular contrition – contrition that attempts to ameliorate all forms of violence and move indigenous polities out of the status of polities and into the space of suffering, minoritized and incapacitated victims of a history that once acknowledged, are somehow healed, or repaired and, in this, whose variegated and violent histories are no longer to be dealt with. The paper stages its argument with recourse to ethnographic conversations with those who stand in active critical, ethical and political relationship to the project of reconciliation.  

Audra Simpson is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Columbia University, and author of Mohawk Interruptus: Political Life Across the Borders of Settler States (Duke University Press, 2014). She editor of the Syracuse University’s reprint of Lewis Henry Morgan’s anthropological classic, League of the Haudenosaunee (under contract) and co-editor (with Andrea Smith) of Theorizing Native Studies (Duke University Press, 2014), has articles in Cultural Anthropology, American Quarterly, Junctures, Law and Contemporary Problems, and Wicazo Sa Review, contributed to the edited volume Political Theory and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Cambridge: Cambridge Press 2000), and was volume editor of Recherches amerindiennes au quebec (RAQ: 1999) on “new directions in Iroquois studies.”  She has received fellowships and awards from Fulbright, the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, Dartmouth College, the American Anthropological Association, Cornell University and the School for Advanced Research (Santa Fe, NM).  In 2010 she won Columbia University’s School for General Studies “Excellence in Teaching Award.” She is a Kahnawake Mohawk.

Co-sponsored by:  the Penn Museum, Penn Center for Cultural Heritage, Department Anthropology, Department of History, and the Greenfield Intercultural Center (Natives at Penn).